Photo by Sasha Van Bon Bon from the Stonewall TO Facebook page.
Is there anything wrong with a little politics mixed with partying? Sasha Van Bon Bon doesn’t think so. “I often mix politics with partying,” she says. The writer and performance artist doesn’t give much credence to the idea that Pride festivals should be a place for celebration with no room for politics. Pride marches around the world, after all, were started to show solidarity with New York City’s Stonewall riots of June 1969 that took place after a police raid and kick-started the queer liberation movement.
Van Bon Bon is one of the organizers behind this Sunday’s purposefully political Stonewall TO, a march from Queen’s Park to the 519 Community Centre in the Church-Wellesley Village, and she says attendance is not an either-or proposition.
“Go to the big party,” she says. “There’s no reason to have to choose between a party and a march, although I can assure you a march can be as fun and exhilarating.” Co-organizer Teresa Fulker agrees with Van Bon Bon that the mood will be positive: “I don’t expect there to be an angry crowd at all. I expect the crowd to be very spontaneous. I expect laughter.”
What’s important about Stonewall TO, say the organizers, is that it commemorates the date of the riots, something the Pride Parade traditionally did in the last weekend of June, but won’t this year. Moving the celebrations to the Canada Day long weekend is something Van Bon Bon takes grievance with: “An enormous, significant political date for a community that was once highly marginalized or oppressed—a sacred date of queer liberation—being moved around, that in itself is something we need to think about.”
The decoupling of Pride Toronto from its political roots worries Van Bon Bon, as she sees a connection between community engagement and politics. Draining the festival of its politics has caused feelings of disconnection, she suggests, “a wedge between people and the community.” Van Bon Bon worries for “young people who have only known a Pride where they are funnelled through beer tents and have water bottles taken away from them, and have not felt empowered by the experience of being surrounded by a lot of other queer people.”
Instead, attendees should be encouraged to participate, she says, “to make it your event so it it isn’t just something to go to.” Stonewall TO is one way, then, to bring back involvement: “People who have not been involved in grassroots organizing in the community really need to see that happening, because it’s the cornerstone of queer organization and socializing.”
Photo by Teresa Fulker from the Stonewall TO Facebook page.
The event will be a celebration of the progress of queer rights so far, but also a “call to arms,” says Fulker, to unify the many people under the diverse umbrella of the queer community: “There are many people who think the struggle is over because we now have gay marriage—I think that’s naive and an epidemic of us sticking our heads into the sand. Just because we can get married, [it] doesn’t mean that there still aren’t struggles. There are other people struggling for their rights, as well.” Fulker suggests that attendees of Stonewall TO should get involved by learning about the many different community organizations that will also be there.
It’s all about connecting people, says Fulker: “I expect a lot of community feeling. There will be connectivity, as people take to the streets; they’ll feel connected to other people in their community fighting for something worth fighting for!” Van Bon Bon has seen a desire for more community involvement. She recalls a marshal meeting for the event where volunteers were anxious to learn more on how to support their community and to keep their communities safe. “It was exhilarating.”
As Pride Toronto attempts to appease more and more constituents and spreads itself thin, the organization should be wary of the maxim that when you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one. Undoubtedly, events like Stonewall TO that emerge outside of Pride will continue to increase in number and in influence, as they attempt to restore a distinct voice to the community.